During a speech in Alabama to support Sen. Luther Strange, who faces a special primary election next Tuesday, President Donald Trump veered into an extended rant on the NFL, largely targeting football player Colin Kaepernick and other athletes who took a knee during the national anthem to protest racial inequality.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘get that son of a bitch off the field right now. He is fired. He’s fired!,’” Trump shouted at the crowd.
On Saturday morning, the NFL issued a statement from Commissioner Roger Goodell in response to Trump’s comments:
“The NFL and our players are at our best when we help create a sense of unity in our country and our culture. There is no better example than the amazing response from our clubs and players to the terrible natural disasters we’ve experienced over the last month. Divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”
The statement does not explicitly address the anthem protests. Goodell, who has led the league since 2006, has been criticized over what some see as a shabby treatment of Kaepernick, who since leaving his contract with the San Fransisco 49ers has struggled to sign on to another team, despite currently being one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL.
When asked if Kaepernick should remain in the league strictly on the merit of his talents, Goodell gave a weak answer, leaving it up to the individual teams.
“There are other people who make those evaluations and that’s a decision that those teams all make individually,” Goodell said in August. “It’s not one that I would make as a commissioner.”
The league, however, is friendly with Trump and his administration. According to the Center For Public Integrity, at least six NFL franchise owners have given $1 million or more to Trump’s inaugural committee: Dan Snyder of the Washington Redskins, Shahid R. Khan of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Stan Kroenke of the Los Angeles Rams, Robert McNair of the Houston Texans, Woody Johnson of the New York Jets, and Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots. Trump named Johnson as his ambassador to the United Kingdom.
As for the NFL players, many plan on using Trump’s comments as fuel to continue their protest.
15 new @NFL players have told me they will be sitting, taking a knee, or raising a fist tomorrow. A start. You can do this fellas.
— Shaun King (@ShaunKing) September 23, 2017